Mark M. Lowenthal is president of the Intelligence & Security
Academy in Reston, Virginia. From 2002 to 2005, he was the assistant director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production
at the Central Intelligence Agency.
THE SHORT AND EMPHATIC answer to the question is: Yes, we are
safer now. How do we know this? There are several indicators.
First, other than the Fort Hood shooting, which falls into an odd
category, there has not been a successful attack on the U.S. homeland in
10 years. There have been attempted attacks, but I will discuss that later.
Second, there has been a definite decline in the quality of the terrorists being recruited to
attack us. Faisal Shahzad (attempted Times Square car bomb) and Umar Abdulmutallab
Third, our citizenry is now more alert, more vigilant and more willing to intervene without
breaking the law. The Times Square and Detroit airplane incidents bear witness to that.
Finally, we now know from documents seized in Osama bin Laden’s compound that he saw
the name of al-Qaida as tarnished and in need of change, believed he was losing the espionage
war to the United States and believed the goal of creating even one Islamic nation was far off in
the future. These are all signs of success.
Our success to date does not mean we should either let down our guard or declare victory.
Historically, terrorist campaigns can last for decades. We also have to understand that success
does not mean no further attacks or even no more successful attacks. In warfare, the enemy has
a will of his own. However, we have made it increasingly difficult for terrorists to operate against
their preferred targets. We have adapted—as will they. But terrorists, like any other organization,
need success to survive and to grow, and we have been able to deny them much of that.
We must take the long view. The safety checks and restrictions at airports will continue.
Alerts will come and go. And the war on terrorists will last a long time. There may be other
sad days in our future. But we have come a long way since 9/11, and we have vastly improved
our ability to deter and to defeat terrorists.
As Thomas Jefferson noted, liberty is based on vigilance. C
from an expert in the field:
Ryan Williams is an assistant professor of law at Western State
University College of Law in California, where he lectures on national
security and international terrorism. Prior to teaching, he worked at
the Lawyers Alliance for World Security in Washington, D.C.
IN THE PAST two years there have been several attacks on U.S. soil,
despite a dramatic increase in security and awareness. In 2009, American
Army Major Nidal Hassan opened fire at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13
people and wounding 30. In May 2010, American Faisal Shahzad tried to
blow up Times Square in New York. And last Christmas, a radicalized
American teenager attempted to blow up a Christmas-tree lighting in Portland, Oregon.
Part of the problem is that the new security measures are often ineffective. For example,
Shahzad failed because he bought the wrong explosives, not because Homeland Security
stopped him. On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a plane
flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. He was foiled only by courageous passengers on the plane.
No air marshal stopped him, and, though he was a reported terrorist, he was not added to the
no-fly list. As a result, to prevent such international terrorism, body scanners were installed—
domestically. They do nothing to make America safer from foreign terrorism.
The inadequacy of security measures is not the only reason America is less safe, however.
Since 9/11, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than 2,000 innocent
Muslims are killed annually in Afghanistan as a result of the war. Such “collateral deaths” have
also occurred in Iraq, Pakistan and other countries where America is fighting terrorism. This
global war on terror, though fought with the intention of protecting our country from further terrorist attacks, is quite likely having the opposite effect.
Those who incite hatred also create an unsafe environment. One need look no further than
the recent bombing and shootings in Oslo, undertaken by a Norwegian national opposed to
Finally, even if America succeeds in killing all of the current jihadists, would that make
America safer? Perhaps, in the short term. But such a goal ignores the root of the problem. As
national security expert Jim Berger noted recently, “You cannot tell someone, ‘You are my
enemy,’ and then blame them for believing you.” C
AUGUST DEBATE RESULTS:
Should teacher layoffs
be based on seniority?
Percentage reflects votes
received by August 12, 2011.
JULY DEBATE RESULTS:
Are biofuels actually
a good idea?
YES: 57% NO: 43%
Percentage reflects votes received by
July 31, 2011. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and
are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.